Wednesday, June 27, 2007


It was weird.

The Annual General Meeting of the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists (Inc), that is. In case you were wondering where I was, I have spent the last three days and four drafts trying to make sense of the AGM of the NZARH. It is not as if I am new to the weirdness of the the NZARH either; but this meeting was one of a kind. The renaming of Rationalist House to Kafka House is long overdue.

I didn't go there with any particular expectation or desire that I would persuade the meeting that I should be readmitted to the membership. I was more concerned at getting a right of reply to the President's Report at last year's AGM, in which I was thoroughly and very nastily done over by someone I once regarded as a close friend. I could not reply then because I had been expelled from the NZARH as soon as I arrived at the AGM. However, the NZARH Constitution said that I could appeal against the expulsion at the next AGM, last Sunday. So my right of reply came a year late.

Whilst we are on the subject of the NZARH Constitution, here is an illustration of how weird things were. I was removed from the Association under Clause 6(a) of the Constitution which says:
The Council shall have the power to suspend the membership of any member who shall have been deemed guilty of conduct prejudicial to the interest of the Association, and, after a full enquiry and subject to the next succeeding Clause, shall have the power to cancel such membership.
I was able to appeal under Clause 6(b), which says
Any member suspended or expelled shall have the right of appeal to a General Meeting of members and a majority decision of two-thirds of the members present shall be final.
All well and good, but the full enquiry never happened. The Council simply decided to expel me at the Council meeting five days before last year's AGM. On Sunday, when I mentioned that the Council had breached the Constitution, Councillor Andrew Geard said that the enquiry had been done. Really? So why didn't I hear about it? Being the subject of the enquiry, I would have thought that I would have been consulted or interrogated or something. Surely someone would have said something to me. Surely they would have produced a report; so I have written to the NZARH President, Elizabeth McKenzie, to ask for a copy. Watch this space. On second thoughts, don't bother.

You will not be surprised to learn that I was not readmitted to membership of the NZARH on Sunday. Garlands of flowers were not thrown to me by an adoring crowd of members. There were no cheers or ovations. The mood of the meeting could largely be summed up as embarrassed silence.

Still, I had my chance to point out the absurdity of the charges that had been made against me. Let me give you an example of that absurdity: then President Judith de Leeuwe said that I had been employed by the NZARH as an administrator, not as Spokesman. But didn't Judith remember the Bertrand Russell Award (yes, I know) which the Council awarded and which she presented to me, with the inscription that says it was for my work as Spokesperson and Secretary? The Rats even have a video of the presentation. And didn't she read the Council minutes of the meetings she chaired, which say the Council wanted me to do publicity work? And didn't she notice that the Council employed someone else to do the administrative work, the Office Manager?

And didn't she remember that little matter with the Maxim Institute; you know, the one that had the NZARH publicised on bFM, TVOne News, TV3 News, Morning Report, Checkpoint, both independent networks, as well as in the pages of the NZ Herald, the Dom Post, the Press, the UK Press Gazette and elsewhere?

Apparently, while I was messing around doing this frivolous publicity work, I should have been opening mail, entering membership details in the office Kalamazoo (kids, ask your parents) and ordering office supplies.

And then there was the accommodation which I had in Rationalist House. Apparently, it was just a temporary arrangement, they were just giving me somewhere to crash for a short while; but I overstayed my welcome, so they asked me to leave. So why did they say in the minutes of their Council meetings that the accommodation was part of my remuneration? And hadn't they forgotten that, when they tried to throw me out, I had taken them to the Tenancy Tribunal, which ruled that I was legally entitled to remain in the accommodation for as long as I had the job?

So, I told the AGM all this and more. I told them how things had started going bad for me after I had reported to the Council that Dr Cooke had been doing very bad things, such as using the NZARH journal for personal gain and lying to the Council after he had made a colossal blunder. I told them how he had tried to have the Council punish me for being beastly to him; how he had resigned when they failed to do so; how they coaxed him back by writing me a letter which said I was the problem.

And I also mentioned that, after six months of argument about my employment and tenancy, the very same Judith de Leeuwe had told my lawyer and I that I was removed from my job because Bill Cooke "wanted to be spokesman."

Not that any of this made any difference on Sunday, at least as far as I know. Perhaps there was a mass uprising of members after I had left the building, but I doubt it. One member, Alan Coombs, stood up to say what a good job I had done. Alan, an all-round good bloke and one of the last of the real Socialists, also proposed the motion that I be readmitted to the membership. However, nobody would second the motion. I think I can assume I would not have carried the meeting.

The Council, for its part, insisted that readmitting me would have been a vote of no confidence in them. Every one of them was opposed. They said I had abused and threatened members of the Association. Of course, what they did not mention is that the supposed victims of my abuse were the very Councillors who were expelling me; quite what threats I am supposed to have made is beyond me. They also expelled me for using the Association's credit card (to which I was the sole signatory) without getting approval of the entire Council beforehand; which is a fair cop - I used it in emergencies, when it would have been inconvenient to all concerned to call a Council meeting - but also a sin most of the Councillors who dismissed me had committed, one night at the Mexican Café.

I suppose I should not be too harsh to the NZARH Council; at least they read my blog. Dr Cooke, especially, seems to be an avid reader. He observed that I could not possibly be readmitted to the NZARH, because I attacked it again and again and again. Worse still, I attacked the NZARH in the pages of Craccum.

So I guess I won't be invited back, not even for the cheese and wine. Before I left, I observed that none of the twenty or so members whom I had introduced to the NZARH were present. They have all left. They are all incredibly bright people in their Twenties, who are starting out on what will probably be brilliant careers in politics, law, journalism and anything else they want to do. They were the future of the NZARH, its next generation. I told this to an audience of about twenty people, of whom one was under Thirty; most were at least twice that age. The NZARH has fewer than 300 members now, with an average age over Sixty; it has lost about twenty-five percent of its membership in the last ten years.

It was good for a while. It looked as if the NZARH had a future. We were doing stuff: fighting the fundies, standing up for secularism, getting new members. Like the victims of Sleepy Sickness in Awakenings, the NZARH had come out of the coma in which it had lain for decades. And, like them, it has slipped back into an endless sleep.

And that was that. I said my bit and then returned to the reality-based community. On my way out, Dr Cooke's loyal assistant, Igor, scuttled after me to serve me a new trespass order; apparently, it needed renewing. I threw it back at him.

I won't be back.


Weekend_Viking said...

You appear to have fallen foul of that tendency of bureaucratic organisations to cease doing that thing humans set up to do (any number of fun, profitable or charitable tasks), and instead to operate to perpetuate the organisation at the cost of both its members and its original aims.

I find that any bureaucracy I've been in, even the good ones, tend to have at some point, a functionally evil outcome. It's less obvious with corporate bureaucracy, more so with that of govt departments and small volunteer operations. It's especially bad when people start playing primate heirachy games.

Anonymous said...

I agree with weekend viking. I suspect your goose was Cooked the moment you started stirring. Your best recourse is to prove that you were right and they were wrong by forming a young, vibrant, thrusting alternative organisation. Now if you can also manage to draft a constitution that is both stable and avoids weekend viking's trap you may have a patent on your hands ;-)

I am given to understand that revenge is a dish best served cold. I suggest to you that the best revenge will be when you and your triumphant organisation buy Rationalist House from the NZARH's last member, a Dr Cooke.

In Journalism City

Stephen said...

That's a sad tale you tell, Paul. I agree that institutional imperatives are at least partly to blame. If you can lay your hands on a copy of Parkinson's Law, read the chapter on Injelitance, and it may ring true.

The first sign of danger is represented by the appearance in the organization's hierarchy of an individual who combines in himself a high concentration of incompetence and jealousy. Neither quality is significant in itself and most people have a certain proportion of each. But when these two qualities reach a certain concentration -- represented at present by the formula I3J5 [I-cubed by J to the fifth] -- there is a chemical reaction. The two elements fuse, producing a new substance that we have termed "injelitance." The presence of this substance can be safely inferred from the actions of any individual who, having failed to make anything of his own department, tries constantly to interfere with other departments and gain control of the central administration. The specialist who observes this particular mixture of failure and ambition will at once shake his head and murmur, "Primary or idiopathic injelitance." The symptoms, as we shall see, are quite unmistakable.

The next or secondary stage in the progress of the disease is reached when the infected individual gains complete or partial control of the central organization. In many instances this stage is reached without any period of primary infection, the individual having actually entered the organization at that level. The injelitant individual is easily recognizable at this stage from the persistence with which he struggles to eject all those abler than himself, as also from his resistance to the appointment or promotion of anyone who might prove abler in course of time. He dare not say, "Mr Asterisk is too able", so he says, "Asterisk? Clever, perhaps -- but is he sound? I incline to prefer Mr Cypher." He dare not say, "Mr Asterisk makes me feel small," so he says, "Mr Cypher appears to me to have the better judgement." Judgement is an interesting word that signifies in this context the opposite of intelligence; it means, in fact, doing what was done last time. So Mr Cypher is promoted and Mr Asterisk goes elsewhere. The central administration gradually fills up with people stupider than the chairman, director, or manager. If the head of the organization is second-rate, he will see to it that his immediate staff are all third-rate; and they will, in turn, see to it that their subordinates are fourth-rate. There will soon be an actual competition in stupidity, people pretending to be even more brainless than they are.

Read the whole thing if you can. I'm afraid I nicked my copy from my Dad, and you can't have it.

Paul said...

I have read it. I did so while I was working for the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall and agreed with every word.

You chaps are right. Thank you. Onwards, upwards, etc

Anonymous said...

Ignore NZARH from this point on, mate. I certainly intend to do so.
It's just one of the little nuisances that life throws ones way. Like people who view me as some sort of latter-day Emmanuel

Craig Y

Paul said...

No, no, I want to be Goldstein. Please, it's my turn.

Anonymous said...

Apparently, one only gets to be an Emmanuel Goldstein if one has broken from a highly unpleasant authoritarian orthodoxy that suppresses free thought and attacks
dissidents and those who have left the fold, or so Orwell said.

Hmmmm. That means we're *both* eligible. There's one line of thought that says that Emmanuel Goldstein in 1984 was nothing more than a folk devil conjured up to create compliance through unity
against a scapegoat.

Therefore, my blighted alma mater dolorosa Middleton Grange and NZARH both qualify as contexts...

Craig Y

Anonymous said...

"an individual who combines in himself a high concentration of incompetence and jealousy" - Sounds just like Pauk you at the NZARH....

Paul said...

You will have to try harder than that. A high standard of abuse is expected on these pages. Writing in coherent sentences would also help your cause; and don't call me Pauk.

Do tell me of whom was I jealous and in what respect was I incompetent?

Anonymous said...


You certainly gave NZARH a sense of purpose when you launched your case against Brucey at Maxim Institute.

NZARH is missing when it could be such an important asset. With local body and national elections due in the next year and a half, there are bound to be fundies floating to the surface. They need to be identified and pilloried.

Xavier said...

Paul, I am ashamed at the way that you have been treated by the NZARH, having witnessed it to some extent first hand. I have not renewed my membership this year, and may not do so for quite a while.

I am glad that you are looking for bigger and better things, because you deserve them, and you will do them


Anonymous said...

Heroes of Humanism?
People for the Ethical Treatises
of Atheists?
Society for Panning of Uncouth Christians?
Society for the Proliferation of
Cute Secularists?
New Zealand Secularist Intervention Squad?

Craig Y

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say that, having being pointed at your blog by a friend, I have abandoned the plans I had to join the NZARH. Two reasons. Firstly, because it doesn't sound like they DO anything. And secondly, because they sound like a bunch of bitchy little snots.